Snowboard retailer Eastern Boarder’s brand remains strong in Central Mass.

After 33 years in business, Eastern Boarder is still the leading retailer of snowboards and skateboards in central Massachusetts.

At its height in the 1990s, the company had stores in Worcester, Leominster and Fitchburg and a few outside the region, as well as a 10,000 square foot warehouse.

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Today, despite fierce competition from online retailers and direct-to-consumer gear manufacturers, the Eastern Boarder brand still reigns supreme in the vibrant snowboard and skateboard scenes here, but now in just two stores, in Worcester. and Nashua.

“We’ve adapted the business,” said Tabor coats, who co-founded the company in 1989 with a small second-floor store in Fitchburg and bought out his former partner after 10 years. “It’s a smaller footprint and lower fixed costs for us.

“In the early days of snowboarding, there were no used snowboards, so we sold them,” Coates said on a recent hot weekday as he looked out over the city’s industrial landscape. “Our numbers were incredible. Nobody else wore them.

After bouncing around in several sites around the city over the decades, the Worcester boutique, located for the past two years in a cleverly renovated former industrial building on Jackson Street, on the edge of the Main South neighborhood, seems to be here for the long haul.

New Worcester location a hipster hub

Coates is excited about the new spot.

“Let me tell you what’s cool about this place, they have a great cafe downstairs,” he said.

He was referring to the motorcycle and adventure-themed New Tradition café located on the ground floor of the building owned by entrepreneurs and artisans. Jay Roche and Joe Weissto whom Coates rents his space.

A bustling hipster business community is rapidly growing in the building. It includes the partner’s friend’s motorbike and car build and repair shop, a hair salon and soon to be a tattoo parlor and the arrival of beer, wine and drinks now that New Tradition has a liquor license, as well as catering, Weiss told me as Coates brought me in for a short round.

Meanwhile, although the retail trends in the snowboarding and skateboarding worlds (which are still quite symbiotic) have changed, the fervor for sidefoot skateboards is stronger than ever.

Old school and new in snowboarding and skateboarding

And the Worcester area, with nearby Wachusett and Ski Ward and the northern ski areas a short drive away, is a snowsports hotspot in southern New England. With a $2 million urban skate park under construction at Crompton Park near the Green Island section of Worcester, the city is a true skateboard town.

Coates has overseen it all, the progression of the sports over the decades and the development of countless talented local snowboarding and skateboarding kids who have made a name for themselves here and taken their games to the scale of New England, or national and international as world luminaries of snowboarding. mike ravelson and Cole Navin.

Also in the Eastern Frontier’s orbit as former employees and customers are great old-school snowboarders such as the Olympian and current Olympic TV commentator. Todd RichardPaxton native and ex-professional pilot and Holden native Alexei Garick – both living on the West Coast now.

Many of these riders have worked in the store at some point (like budding snowboarding talents ryan adams does now, and Garick, the company’s second full-time employee and now a lawyer) and if they didn’t, they shopped and hung around there.

“It goes back to Alexei, he was our first big name,” Coates said of Garick, who I skied with in Washington State last winter.

Eastern Boarder has sponsored most of the top riders and continues to lend its well-known brand to emerging Central Massachusetts snowboarders, such as the members of the Eastern Boarder team. Athena Comeau, Nick Erickson and Towns of Tommy.

Succeeding in the Snowboard Industry

Coates smiled when I asked what it takes to sponsor a snowboarder, and he noted that many former employees have also gone into snowboard journalism and publishing or made careers with manufacturers and brands. of the company.

“We’ve had so many of our guys succeed in the industry,” Coates said. “But we don’t have the financial means to do much for anyone. We try to make payroll.

“What we do is give them exposure. The sales people I deal with, I reach out to them and say, ‘I’ve got this local kid, he’s so good, let me send you some pictures’ , Coates said. “I give them free stuff, and when they’re coming to town, meet them and … take them to the next level.”

Coates, ironically, started out as a skier growing up, skiing in Wachusett and the now long-closed former Watatic area.

He was even a ski instructor in Wachusett, and when snowboarding started in the 1970s after the late snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton (a former client of Coates) essentially invented the sport, Coates would sneak around the Princeton ski area on his board when snowboarding wasn’t yet allowed.

These days, Coates is a big fan of Wachusett, where so many of his customers and employees ride, as well as the Strand ski shop in Worcester, which sells snowboards but sends many customers to Eastern Boarder for more specialized gear.

“Wachusett can be covered in a few days with their snowmaking, and they do a great job of teaching people how to snowboard,” he said.

Other activities and future

Coates also began to take a step back from the business to focus more on his other project, Blue Collar Aviation, a flight school specializing in experimental and vintage aircraft operating out of Crow Island Airpark in Stow. Growing up in Shirley, Coates learned to fly airplanes as a teenager at the town’s former small airport, now a solar farm.

Regarding succession plans, Coates said he was confident about the future and made a move to the busy Worcester store, which sees a steady stream of customers daily.

“Well, hopefully the guys running it now want to run with it,” he said.

I bet they will.

Vail Resorts is finally getting some media attention

It’s been a very bad season in terms of public relations for the Colorado-based chain, which is the largest ski area owner in the country and has seven ski areas in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Underperforming ski areas with lifts that worked poorly or didn’t open much, complications from COVID-19, bad ski weather, labor shortages, sometimes massive lift lines, customer revolts and near-constant bashing from ski bloggers on social media were among the biggest problems for the ski area giant in 2021-22.

But earlier this week, Vail’s fortunes appeared to change quite dramatically when the company said it would now pay a minimum wage of $20 an hour at its 37 North American resorts and start ski patrollers. beginners at $21 an hour.

Along with the pay hike — which equates to a $7-per-hour raise, or a 54% increase at Attitash, Crotched, Sunapee and Wildcat in New Hampshire — came with a slew of perks improvements for employees and strengthening of HR services after workers complained about poor HR service.

Social media haters cheer

Even some of the harshest Vail reviewers on the internet have had rather pleasant comments about the ski resort giant. Former haters included ski influencers on social media Dave Amirault of Salt Lake City, an Assumption College graduate and former Wachusett employee, and Alex Kaufmanformer media guru for Ski the East and a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.

“Well done, @VailResorts,” Amirault tweeted Monday, using the company’s Twitter account. “This is a great victory for your employees and the mountain communities. (See, I can say great things about virtual reality). »

Some of Vail’s rival Alterra Mountain Co. resorts have also raised wages, and Alterra and Vail have unveiled multimillion-dollar investments in ski area infrastructure over the next few years.

Alterra has hammered Vail in PR wars this season.

Now Vail has done the right thing for its employees and, by extension, its customers, and has finally caught up.

—Contact Shaun Sutner via email at [email protected]